Dell Vice President Tim Griffin, who oversees services in the company’s Small and Medium Business division, talks with about the latest technology trends for small firms and what the company is doing to help in this tough economic environment.

MainStreet: Dell (Stock Quote: DELL) is probably best known by small firms as a hardware provider. Are you satisfied with that perception, or is Dell SMB trying to position itself more broadly?

Tim Griffin: Services represent about 10% of Dell’s total revenue. We clearly want to get the message out there that we are under a transformation process that’s taking it from a hardware company to a services company. It’s part of my mandate to get the message out that we are very keen to offer holistic solutions.

MS: What is the company’s strategy to help make that transformation complete?

TG: We understand how our customers buy. Most of our customers are buying on the basis of some kind of requirement. They don’t wake up in the morning thinking they want a shiny box. They want to solve a problem. We are engaging in a conversation with customers and offering holistic solutions. It’s more than selling a piece of hardware.

We offer ProSupport and ProManage packages. They offer different levels of hardware, software and interface support. We’ve got 24/7, 365 day availability in a range of tools and infrastructure.

What’s important is that it doesn’t have to be just Dell equipment we look after. We can also look after things remotely and our ProSupport offers next business day, on-site service. It’s not about having to carry it to a depot and wait five days to get it back. You can even upgrade to have it fixed within four hours that same day.

MS: What are the biggest tech trends that SMBs are faced with today?

TG: One of trends we’re seeing in the industry is that [information technology] is becoming the lifeblood of the business. When IT is down, the business is down.

We’re seeing a movement from IT being a tool to a strategic asset ... we’re seeing it happen across the SMB space. We’re also seeing firms needing to do more with less - less space, less money, less time, less power, less staff. How do we enable them to manage those pressures?

We are seeing that 70% of [a small or medium-sized business owner’s] time is managing the company and keeping the lights on. We think that’s too much of their time and money. It needs to be reduced, and we think we can reduce that by around 30% via a combination of our support and management offerings.

MS: Do you see those trends today of using and working with less as a reflection of the recession or something else?

TG: It’s only been accelerated by the challenge of the economy in the United States and globally. In reality though we did a lot of this kind of market analysis prior to this kind of collapse and the trend was there then. There’s increasing pressure on IT budgets while the demands on an IT department are going up. The IT departments have less and less available budget to do new things, although they are part of the fabric of a company.

MS: It’s been extremely difficult for small businesses to grow because of volatility in the credit market. Is Dell addressing this in terms of tech financing?

TG: We are helping SMBs understand the government stimulus packages and providing lines of credit to them and financing packages as they buy. We’ve developed a Dell stimulus learning center for businesses.

With the Dell ProManage portfolio, we offer customers the ability to choose what level of service they want. It’s very flexible pricing.

MS: Some small firms are very skittish about flexible pricing because they want to be able to budget around a fixed cost.

TG: You can have a very predictable cost structure with it, but you can lower your level of service for a period of time if your revenues have gotten into a pickle. You can decide if you want alerts, remediation, management and other tools for how long you want and can switch it on and off. It’s pay as you go and pay for what you need.

MS: Why is Dell’s SMB unit based in Singapore?

TG: Dell looked to have one of its business units outside of its headquarters in Austin, Texas. The U.S. is our biggest marketplace, but Asia is one of the fastest growing parts of the world. We’ve got a lot of our people based here, but we’re still launching offers today in the U.S. first.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at